Monday, March 11, 2013

The 87%: content uncovered

After years of giving, critiquing, and developing good presentations, we at SquarePlanet have found that content, design, and delivery make up 87%, 13%, and 13% of presentations, respectively.

As you hopefully noticed, those numbers do not add up to 100%. That extra 13% doesn't need to be included, although the more pizza the better. You can give a perfectly good presentation without it. You may be surprised to know that that's the design portion. Indeed, you do not need it; with solid content and wicked delivery, pretty slides are bonus material. (We all know that beautiful slides can really enhance a presentation. They're important, but not essential. We try not to bring this up frequently around the SquarePlanet designers...) That means that you should spend the vast majority of your time developing your content. What does that entail, exactly?

As we've posted before, great content is built with great stories. Your presentation can't just be facts, facts, facts, smile, facts, and a tacked-on invitation. That would be terribly dry. In the best case of that scenario, your audience would walk away well informed for a few hours before they forgot everything you said. In the worst case, they would feel like gouging out their eyes from boredom and hold you personally accountable for their feelings of existential doom. Neither of those situations are ideal. You want your audience to walk away feeling informed and moved. If you can get your audience to feel moved, it's more likely they'll remember your message and take action. And stories make people feel things.

Humans have a long history of storytelling, which works out for you and us because that means there are a variety of stories we can steal if we can't come up with our own. It's best to think of your own, though--it'll make you feel more passionate and invested, making your audience more passionate and invested. Maybe your material grew naturally from personal experience to begin with. If not, try to think of ways you can relate your material to your own life. If you can't think of any, go ahead and search the interwebs for inspiration and stories. Keep your beliefs and purpose in mind. Other tried and true resources for stories are books, magazines, and newspapers. Those things tend to be chock-full of stories. Once you've got a story that can be tied to your material, you can start adding in your facts (what we call the "know") because your audience has been properly primed to listen.

Two additional tools for making your facts relatable and understandable are metaphors and similes. Especially if your facts aren't particularly evocative, metaphors/similes offer a nice escape from convention. Metaphors and similes are also a good tool if you're trying to come up with an idea for a visual aid (not that you should care about visual aides at this point). Throughout this entire content development process, you should constantly be trying to simplify, so when you're thinking of a good metaphor/simile, make sure you're not using a difficult one lest you shoot yourself in the foot.

So those are the basics of content development: stories, feelings, facts, metaphors, and simplicity. That's a lot of stuff, and that's why it makes up 87% of presentations.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

It's Not About the Slides

We develop memorable presentations. Yeah, we design cool looking and even animated slides, but that's not the lynchpin of a great presentation, regardless of what Microsoft's new ad campaign would like you to believe. Actually, your slides don't matter.

That's not entirely true. Maybe I should say, "your slides aren't what your audience is there to see." Your slides, if hard to read or understand, can do more damage to your communication than good. In reality, yes, they can help you and support your message, but if your projector or laptop battery dies minutes before a big presentation, what else do you have?

The answer is, your story. Without your story, your presentation is useless. Without your slides, your presentation is still going to happen. And you had better be prepared to deliver.

So here's the deal. Whether you like it or not, when we say that your presentation sucks and you need help, we're not necessarily only talking about your craptastic slides or your rambling and incoherent delivery. What we are mainly targeting is the entire structure and development of your story. Yeah, we can pinch & polish your bad slides and make them look killer, and we can most certainly work with you to make you more comfortable in front of onlookers, but there is something that you need to consider long before these things.

The development of your story.

The development of your story is absolutely the most important part of your presentation. Long before you open up your favorite side presentation program, long before you ever start dumping bullet points into a word processor, you should be building the story. That's where we start, and so should you.

After thinking that the process was really three important, equal and integrated parts, we realized that it wasn't an equal process. As much as I would love to have a bunch of new clients to develop great slides for, the reality is that more so than just slides, the process needs to be build from the front end, not in reverse. Remember, slides are support vehicles and not the main vessel for your message. If they are, you are doing it wrong.

Slides are not your script. I can read, so you don't need to narrate your bullet points to me. If that's all you are going to do, send me an e-mail and save us both some time and effort. The second you turn around to read off of your slides is the second I tune out. That's the moment you lose an audience.

So how much should you develop your story? It's a big percentage of the process, actually. Let's say, 87%, to start.